The U.S. sent $400 million to Iran in January just as the country decided to release four Americans. The administration claims they did not pay a ransom, but many have raised their eyebrows.

President Barack Obama said the payment “represented the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement the Obama administration reached with Iran to resolve a decades-old dispute over a failed arms deal signed just before the 1979 fall of Iran’s last monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.”

The payment also came when Iran and the West agreed on a nuclear deal. Obama celebrated the deal and the release by saying “the time was right to resolve this dispute as well.” However, Obama never mentioned that they just sent $400 million “in an unmarked cargo plane.”

They had to give Iran the money in foreign currency because laws forbid transactions with Iran using American money. The Wall Street Journal explained how the deal happened:

The Iranians were demanding the return of $400 million the Shah’s regime deposited into a Pentagon trust fund in 1979 to purchase U.S. fighter jets, U.S. officials said. They also wanted billions of dollars as interest accrued since then.

President Obama approved the shipment of the $400 million. But accumulating so much cash presented a logistical and security challenge, said U.S. and European officials. One person briefed on the operation joked: “You can’t just withdraw that much money from ATMs.”

Mr. Kerry and the State and Treasury departments sought the cooperation of the Swiss and Dutch governments. Ultimately, the Obama administration transferred the equivalent of $400 million to their central banks. It was then converted into other currencies, stacked onto the wooden pallets and sent to Iran on board a cargo plane.

On the morning of Jan. 17, Iran released the four Americans: Three of them boarded a Swiss Air Force jet and flew off to Geneva, with the fourth returning to the U.S. on his own. In return, the U.S. freed seven Iranian citizens and dropped extradition requests for 14 others.

Professor Jacobson wrote about four prisoners Iran received in return for our guys. They certainly sound swell.

Of course, officials said the timing was a coincidence:

“As we’ve made clear, the negotiations over the settlement of an outstanding claim…were completely separate from the discussions about returning our American citizens home,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said. “Not only were the two negotiations separate, they were conducted by different teams on each side, including, in the case of The Hague claims, by technical experts involved in these negotiations for many years.”

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) does not buy the explanation:

“This break with longstanding U.S. policy put a price on the head of Americans, and has led Iran to continue its illegal seizures” of Americans, he said.

To make matters worse, the Iranian government “arrested two more Iranian-Americans” since then. This is why Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) is against paying ransoms:

“Paying ransom to kidnappers puts Americans even more at risk,” Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said ina statement. “While Americans were relieved by Iran’s overdue release of illegally imprisoned American hostages, the White House’s policy of appeasement has led Iran to illegally seize more American hostages.”

Now Congress wants to pass legislation that will stop the administration from sending more money to Iran and provide details of this $1.7 billion deal:

“President Obama’s…payment to Iran in January, which we now know will fund Iran’s military expansion, is an appalling example of executive branch governance,” said Sen. James Lankford (R., Okla.), who co-wrote the bill. “Subsidizing Iran’s military is perhaps the worst use of taxpayer dollars ever by an American president.”

CIA Director John Brennan insists Iran has used the money “for development projects” like supporting its own currency, providing “moneys to departments and agencies, build up its infrastructure.”

The U.S. still owes $1.3 million to Iran.